By Walter Sabo
NEW YORK — Each talk host has a unique set of life experiences, opinions and feelings. When a host is encouraged and allowed to express their unique world view, the result is compelling radio and the cume grows. Tragically, and it is tragic, at some point most hosts are told to “sound more like…” or “did you hear so and so today?”
The reason Howard Stern, Rush Limbaugh, Dr. Laura have been so successful is that they copy no one. You may be surprised to learn that Howard Stern has never listened to most of the other hosts he’s bashed.
When working with talent it is never wise to encourage them to listen to other hosts because it destroys their internal navigation system. Each host has stories they want to tell, ideas they want to present and blessed opinions that must be heard. When they are forced to monitor other hosts, their own instincts soften and ultimately crumble.
Legendary stations sound horrible…to you, the out-of-towner
You’ve had the experience of listening to a legendary station for the first time and being shocked that it sounded horrible. Yes, it sounded horrible to you because you didn’t grow up in that city with that station. That’s not your station. The truly great stations are endemic to their cities. They copy no other station. Instead, they have created a mirror of the interest needs and tastes of their listeners.
There may be structural elements of hit radio shows and stations that a host or station should borrow to create a stronger stage for their own work. But a host should not have to procure those elements by listening to hours of another host. She should get those guidelines from the program director. It’s the program director’s role to break down the structural elements of successful shows and determine which ingredients would result in a stronger program for her hosts.
Copying kills cume
Monitoring dozens of syndicated shows reveals an endless supply of copycat hosts featuring the same opinions and same analogies. It’s just not interesting. More risky, copying stops the growth of the industry. Each new voice, opinion, story propels radio to attract new cume. Using current methods, talk radio is simply not doing that.
The most shocking fact about Howard Stern:
The most shocking fact about Howard Stern’s stunning work is that there is no one on the horizon who has put together a new, viable program to attract a similar audience. No, he can’t be copied and that’s the point. He tells his truth. Certainly his work has attracted talented people to work in radio and they should be anxious to present their show, their way. It doesn’t come from copying; it comes from honesty and determination.
Copying makes the cume smaller
Wonder why many uninformed radio executives imagine that “talk” is not a cume format, not a PPM format? If every station is talking about the same material and talking about it the same way, ultimately they are just “talking” to themselves. If music stations programmed all of their songs based on request line calls, their cume would sink. Note how many legendary stations started to decline when they eliminated wildly divergent points of view and topics and started to schedule pretty much the same show all day.
Encouraging hosts to tell their truth, in their way is the first step to growing cume in a PPM universe.
Walter Sabo is the Chairman of Sabo Media, a company that offers executive-on-demand services. He has worked on-site to build out new digital content platforms such as Sirius/XM. His team was the first to discover the marketing clout of web stars, Internet organic video producers. They founded OMMA award winning HITVIEWS. The company placed brands such as CBS, TiVo and Mountain Dew inside UGC. In FM broadcasting he is the leader in the profitable sector of FM Talk and held executive positions at NBC and ABC Radio. He can be reached at Walter@sabomedia.com.